March 12, 2009
AUBURN - Friday's meet against Ohio State marks the final appearance in Beard-Eaves-Memorial Coliseum for Auburn's three senior gymnasts. It's the last time that they will be able to be pumped up by Auburn's intro video and perform in front of thousands of Auburn gymnastics fans. For Claire Seiffert, A.J. Mills and Lindsey Puckett, it's one last time to show their gratitude to the Auburn community for four years of support.
Each has had their fair share of ups and downs in their time on the Plains, but those ups and downs have lead to the molding of a unique individual. There have been tears shed, uncontrollable laughter shared, countless trips taken and lessons learned that have given these three seniors an experience unlike any other.
In a chance to reflect over four years, Seiffert, Mills and Puckett look back on moments that changed them, even back to their first days on campus and to now, their final weeks.
It was general consensus among the three seniors that since they arrived in the fall of 2005, each of them has grown, matured and learned many things about themselves.
"I feel like my freshman year I came in and it was a lot of trying to figure out what the whole program was about, that is how everybody is in their freshman year," Seiffert explained. "You've had your old coaches, a lot of people had them their whole life, and you're thrown in with new coaches who do things differently."
Adjusting to their new regime developed leaders that stepped up early and continue to lead the team to this day.
"Coming out of club gym, it was me, me, me," Mills stated. "I realized that it is more of a team atmosphere in college. I was able to step back and lead them and help everyone else. I've always had a certain type of leadership, but I think it has developed, evolved and turned up a level."
The excitement that comes with a first season rang true with many high points. Among those highlights was a team trip to Cancun, Mexico, for the season-opening Cancun Classic, a huge win over LSU in Baton Rouge, La., and individual qualification to the NCAA Championships in Corvallis, Ore.
Sophomore year was different though. For two it brought the highest of highs, but for another it was the lowest of lows.
Seiffert, who was a walk-on when she arrived, was awarded for her contributions to the team with a scholarship.
"Everybody works their whole life for this college scholarship and most people get it when they're a freshman, when they're coming in," Seiffert said. "That was something I continued to work on, that was still my goal every year. When I was awarded a scholarship, it was like all the hard work had paid off."
Mills won her first all-around title in her second year of competition. It was a marquee moment that helped her realize and give her the confidence that she could be an all-around gymnast during her career at Auburn.
On the other hand, after a stellar rookie debut, it was Puckett who struggled her sophomore season.
"Sophomore year was a growing year," Puckett said. "It was a growing year for everybody. It's much easier to remember the bad. Not saying that was a bad year, we had a great year, but I think I missed making it to nationals by .025 on every event and the all-around, so that was rough. I wouldn't take it back by any means."
Seiffert's favorite memories from junior year include a bus dance party and win out in the Rockies.
"Last year we had a really good meet at NC State and we had an eight-hour bus ride back," she explained. "We danced the whole way back. We didn't sit down. That was just a blast. Also, when we went to Denver last year, we had an awesome meet and we won by a slight margin."
Guided by consistent performances and strong leadership, their final season exemplifies of what this class is all about.
"I think this whole year has just been awesome," Puckett said. "We've been building and been consistent. Everybody has their rope for each other and everybody's been there for each other."
Seiffert agreed with her senior counterpart, but two wins really highlighted her thoughts.
"This year, starting off with such a high score because that was a great way to start the season and we've never started that high," she said. "Then beating LSU and Arkansas, there's nothing better than beating those two teams."
Down to their final home meet, they should each have already lived their career-defining moment. Or have they?
Puckett qualified for the NCAA Championships as a freshman and although that ranks high, she says that's not it.
"I think my moment is still coming," Puckett said.
Mills is waiting, patiently, both for herself and the team.
"I don't think mine has come yet," Mills said. "I think, as a team, we still haven't quite reached that place, our goals especially, making it to the NCAA Championship. That will be mine, once we make it there. I'm waiting for my defining moment."
Through these highs and lows, goal setting and goal achieving and lessons learned, Seiffert, Mills and Puckett have found themselves. In turn, this has provided the Auburn gymnastics program with top-notch leadership in three varying styles.
"Claire is going to be the spokesperson," Mills explained. "She is the first one to speak up and the first person to do everything. Lindsey is the one that if you need to go to the coaches for something, even freshman year since her sister was already here, you could always go through her. Now we all definitely have that confidence and no worries in approaching anything. That's how our leadership qualities have evolved. I'm definitely not a silent leader, but out of the three of us, I kind of am. We each have our own little qualities."
Growing together and understanding each other has developed a very special bond between them.
"I feel like our bond is so understood," Seiffert said. "We all know that none of us will take shortcuts; we're always trying as hard as we can. We never have to get on each other. We all feel like we're responsible for ourselves and we all know what it takes so we don't have to worry about each other."
Now after looking back on memories of their time at Auburn, graduation and the future are staring right at Mills, Seiffert and Puckett. Where will the road of life lead them next?
For Mills, a marketing major with a minor in communications, work experience and graduate school await her. She hopes to first obtain an internship in one of those areas and then move on to more schooling. Mills has her sights set.
"I'd like to start opening up my own series of sportsplexes or going straight into athletic administration," Mills said. "I'd love to be an athletic director some day."
Following in the footsteps of her parents, Seiffert will enroll in law school, but has some things she'd like to do before getting back into the grind of studying.
"I am going to go home to Louisville, Ky., and work until January and then I am going to travel," Seiffert said. "I am going to try to do a service project in Africa and then travel around Europe for a couple months. I'll then come back to Louisville and work until I start law school the next fall. I hope to be as successful in a career as I have been as a gymnast."
Five years down the road Seiffert sees herself practicing commercial law, but says she'll enter law school with an open mind.
Puckett plans to transcend the things she has learned about marriage, that it's not a fairy tale and relationships are hard work, from her coaches in to her next step in life.
"Hopefully by this time next year I'll be married," Puckett said. "Hopefully with some sort of job, there's no telling what's going to happen with this crazy economy. I want to live in Atlanta."
As their days on the Plains come to a close with graduation nearing, each has their own agenda to what their future holds. Whether it is gaining work experience, traveling or beginning a new life with marriage, what they have endured and learned as an Auburn gymnast will provide a strong backbone in future trials.